David Shambaugh Assesses China, the 'Partial Power'

NEW YORK, February 27, 2013 — What distinguishes China Goes Global: The Partial Power, the new book by veteran China scholar and George Washington political science professor David Shambaugh, from the countless books on China's growth that have surfaced in recent years?

In a talk here with Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director of Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations, Shambaugh explained that rather than looking at China's vertical rise, he researched and wrote about China's horizontal "spread," its position on the world stage and within the global community.

Before beginning the research for his book, Shambaugh assumed that China has a huge impact on the world. "But data did not confirm the hypothesis," he noted, indicating that China's influence is, in fact, limited across several dimensions. Shambaugh organized his book "functionally," with five sections for the five categories that he researched and found accurately measure the size of China's role and influence in the world. These five categories are: diplomacy, global governance, economic presence, cultural presence, and security presence.

Painting its position on diplomacy and global governance in the world is China's "passive, defensive, risk-averse, narrowly self-interested…[and] occasionally combative" nature. As a result, relations between China and other powers are mostly strained and "mixed at best," having deteriorated under Hu Jintao's rule. In terms of its economic presence, China suffers from "lack of innovation," and isn't a "global pace setter." Yes, GDP would indicate that China's economy is healthy, but social stratification would indicate otherwise.

China isn't setting trends in any cultural category, Shambaugh argued, though this will probably change over time. Its military is merely a regional power as opposed to a global power.

And so, Shambaugh concluded, China is a "partial power," as yet not in a league with the U.S. in the global community. Shambaugh asserted, however, that this argument is not absolute. China has made a big impact on several world industries like energy and tourism, as well as the luxury goods market, the art auction market, and the property market, to name a few.

After postulating that China doesn't have a particularly clear sense of its objectives but affirming its craving for respect (or the restoration of its "dignity," according to Xi Jinping), Shambaugh stated that the country has yet to win that respect because it lacks soft power. There is no widespread attraction to the Chinese culture because it is not wholly adoptable outside of China itself. Shambaugh argued for the need for political reform and better public relations, which has thus far been "vapid and hollow." China must get rid of sloganeering, which has worked domestically but "falls on deaf ears" abroad.

Political reform is necessary because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) impedes China's ongoing attempt to build "comprehensive power." The regime isn't stable today because it isn't adaptable. It experiences too many stresses and consequently its "legitimacy stands on weak reeds." Party members know the reforms that need to occur but fear losing political control.

Looking to the future, Shambaugh concluded that China needs "bold leadership" if it is to garner respect and determine what its role should be on the world stage.

Reported by Renny Grishpan

Video: Highlights from the program (5 min., 22 sec.)

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